House passes GOP budget plan for 2012
The White House strongly denounced the plan, saying it was at odds with President Obama’s “balanced approach” to deficit reduction.
The vote came a day after Congress passed a contentious budget deal for fiscal 2011 that ended the possibility of a government shutdown before Sept. 30, when the current fiscal year ends.
The debate on various 2012 budget blueprints unfolded as Republicans were smarting from President Obama’s attacks on their cost-cutting goals and Democrats were growing more frustrated with the GOP’s growing power and deficit-reduction zeal.
The GOP plan that passed the House on Friday was crafted by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Republicans have dubbed it “The Path to Prosperity.” Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have belittled it as the “Road to Ruin.”
In debate before the vote, Democrats argued that the GOP proposal would drastically affect the entitlement programs valued by voters, especially seniors, and would deny funding for crucial infrastructure investments.
“This Republican plan ends Medicare as we know it and dramatically reduces benefits for seniors,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House minority leader, said in a floor speech. She said it would force the average senior citizen to pay twice as much for half the benefits while giving “tens of billions of dollars” in tax breaks to big oil companies.
The GOP plan “reduces Medicaid to our seniors and nursing homes . . . while it gives tax breaks to companies that send jobs overseas,” Pelosi said. “That’s just not fair.”
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) defended the Ryan budget plan, saying it “shows families and small business that we are serious about dealing with America’s spending illness.” He said Americans “understand that we can’t continue to spend money that we don’t have” at a time when the national debt tops $14 trillion.
Boehner blasted President Obama for a speech earlier this week that the speaker described as advocating “more taxing, more spending and more borrowing.” He also criticized Obama for asking Congress to raise the debt limit while rejecting any linkage to Republican policy prescriptions in return.
“The president wants a clean bill, and the American people will not tolerate it,” Boehner declared. “There will be no debt limit increase unless it is accompanied by serious reforms.”
In a statement issued by the White House after the vote, press secretary Jay Carney said: “The House Republican plan places the burden of debt reduction on those who can least afford it, ends Medicare as we know it, and doubles health care costs for seniors in order to pay for more than a trillion dollars in tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.”
By contrast, Carney said, Obama this week “put forth a balanced approach to deficit reduction based on shared responsibility and shared prosperity.” Carney added that any resolution of the competing approaches will require Republicans and Democrats to work together and that “we are committed to that process.”
The four Republicans who joined 189 Democrats in voting against the GOP budget were Reps. Ron Paul (Texas), Walter B. Jones (N.C.), Denny Rehberg (Mont.) and David B. McKinley (W.Va.).
As final debate was getting underway, a group of environmental protesters repeatedly interrupted speakers from both parties, and Capitol Police ultimately removed at least seven people from the House visitors’ gallery.
“We want the government to protect our futures and not the futures of the corporations,” one protester told reporters as a Capitol Police officer put her in flexicuffs in the third-floor hallway outside the House chamber.
The protest came after the House rejected a Democratic budget alternative proposed by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) .
Earlier, in a surprise move, House Democrats voted “present” on a more conservative Republican alternative to the Ryan budget, putting GOP leaders on the spot. The procedural effort fell just nine votes short of succeeding.
The rare move came on a vote on a fiscal year 2012 budget proposal presented by the Republican Study Committee, a group of 176 conservative House Republicans. The group comprises 76 percent of the entire Republican Conference.
The RSC budget plan, proposed by the group’s chairman, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), called for even bigger changes to federal spending than the Ryan plan, enacting $9.5 trillion in cuts over the next decade and balancing the federal budget by 2020. Ryan’s plan would bring the budget into balance by 2030 and make $6.2 trillion in cuts.
As Democrats changed their votes from “no” to “present,” Republicans were forced to scramble to make sure the alternative did not pass instead of symbolically voting for it. In the end, the RSC budget failed on a 119-to-136 vote, with 172 lawmakers voting “present.” That meant that if just nine more Republicans had backed the RSC proposal, it would have passed.
Obama rejected the Ryan plan in his speech on the country’s debt earlier this week. “We will all need to make sacrifices, but we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in,” he said in a speech at George Washington University. “And, as long as I’m president, we won’t.”
Thursday night, in Chicago, Obama said America’s two major political parties have dramatically different views of government that offer the nation “a very stark choice.”
“Under their vision, we can’t invest in roads and bridges and broadband and high-speed rail,” Obama said. “We need to build on the compromises we made last week, but we can’t compromise on our investments to grow, the investments we need to create jobs.”
Even within the Democratic and Republican parties, the nation’s soaring debt and sluggish economy are stirring divisions.
Obama is taking heat from liberal groups angry that he is willing to cut domestic spending and make compromises with the Republican majority in Congress. And there is a growing rift inside the GOP over whether the tax increases Obama espouses — long anathema to Republicans — have become necessary. That fissure could threaten passage of any deal to reduce the deficit.
In debate on the budget Thursday evening, some Democrats argued, as Obama did in his speech, that the country’s debt problem cannot be tackled without raising taxes from higher-income earners.
“You know, cry me a river,” Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) said on the House floor regarding potential higher taxes for the wealthy.
Republicans countered that Democrats were lashing out at the Ryan budget while ignoring the scope of the country’s deficit problem.
“Your problem isn’t Mr. Ryan. It’s Mr. Arithmetic,” Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said.